Simanaitis Says

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PHIL JORDAN—PETROGRAD, 1917 PART 1

PHIL JORDAN was an American residing in Russia during cataclysmic times. His job at the American embassy in Petrograd brought him into direct contact with the Russian people and their Revolution. Phil’s many letters written during that time are the only record provided by a westerner of working-class origin. That he was a little-schooled African-American adds to the drama. Indeed, Phil Jordan’s story calls for two parts here at SimanaitisSays, today and tomorrow.

Philip Jordan, 1868–1941, African-American valet, chauffeur and major domo of sorts to U.S. Ambassador David R. Francis. Sharing the back seat of the embassy’s Ford Model T with Ambassador Francis is counsellor J. Butler Wright. Image from Caught in the Revolution.

Phil was born in 1868 in Jefferson City, Missouri, the son of an emancipated slave. At age 21, he entered service of the Francis family during David Francis’s tenure as Governor of Missouri. In Phil’s letters, he always referred to his boss as “the Gov.”

Appointed Ambassador to Russia by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Francis took Jordan with him as valet and chauffeur of the embassy’s Model T Ford. In time, Phil became something of the embassy major domo, the guy who knew how to get things done at the personal level with the Russian populace.

In particular, Phil was rare among Petrograd ex-pats in bothering to learn more than just a smattering of Russian. Diplomatic languages of the era were French and English.

As noted here at SimanaitisSays, Phil once used his linguistic prowess to acquire a rare case of champagne by swapping something or other with a Russian entrepreneur.

Helen Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution documents other Jordan adventures, with brief excerpts from his letters. Historytoday.com offers other excerpts in “Philip Jordan and the October Revolution,” by Jamie H. Cockfield.

Cockfield notes that “… his account of the Revolution provides a different perspective from that of more sophisticated writers such as John Reed.”

John Silas Reed, 1887–1920, American journalist, poet, social activist, Bolshevik. Image from Caught in the Revolution.

I add that, unlike Reed, Jordan had no Bolshevik bias. Reed was an American renowned for his outspoken left-wing views as shared in his Ten Days That Shook the World. Reed became a close friend of Lenin and is one of only three Americans buried in the Kremlin.

I’d prefer a less biased view of matters; for example, one witnessed by Phil Jordan. Tomorrow in Part 2, I’ll share some of Phil’s writings. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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